Central mayor: ‘We really dodged a bullet’ with flooding _lowres

 A Tangipahoa Parish subdivision 7 miles from Hammond Northshore Regional Airport flooded on March 12, 2016 after days of record-breaking rainfall.

The Tangipahoa Parish Council is considering whether to impose a 60-day moratorium on development to more thoughtfully address flooding and drainage issues in the fast-growing south end of the parish, but some officials don’t think a halt would do much good.

If approved at the council’s July 13 meeting, the moratorium would go into effect immediately and would stop consideration and preliminary approval through the planning commission for 60 days of any new residential subdivisions with more than eight lots as well as special-use residential commercial developments.

An increase in reports of flooding in areas that hadn’t previously seen significant levels of water — namely around Hammond and Ponchatoula, and specifically the Bedico area — prompted the proposal.

Officials have said they would use the 60 days to study the impacted areas and draft recommendations for planning or ordinance changes that could help ease the negative impact of new developments on drainage.

Though the public speakers at a recent meeting to introduce the idea were largely in favor of the moratorium, some asked whether 60 days would be enough to effect change and questioned what exactly would be done.

Ponchatoula resident Al Barron said he’s seen flooding become more severe in his area and believes development needs to be “throttled back a little.”

“The flooding is a severe issue and this most recent event we faced has given me cause for concern,” he told the council. “I would ask you to please consider the ordinance but if you need more money (through a property tax) millage for drainage, believe me I’m behind you.”

The parish council voted similarly in late 2018 to halt what was then an influx of development in the same area to make sure infrastructure systems could handle the quick growth.

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Parish President Robby Miller said while he’ll support the council’s decision, he doesn’t believe there’s been enough time since the 2018 changes were implemented to see the full effect of them.

At that time, he said, there were changes to wetlands management, building requirements, and drainage plans for developers that now need to accommodate a 100-year rain event rather than the former requirement of a 10-year rain event.

Miller said that the length of time it takes a development to go from planning to residents moving in can be years, so the developers who have had plans approved since the changes were made are only now moving dirt.

“I’m not opposed to what we need to do to improve the parish’s drainage system, but I don’t like the message of a moratorium,” he said. “Most everything we could do could be done through ordinance and the development committee and many of the ideas they’re discussing we already looked at.”

Council member David Vial, who spearheaded the 2018 development halt, does not agree with this one. He voted against introducing the moratorium, saying 60 days wouldn’t make a difference in the overall issues and now that the parish could be facing a financial crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, continuing development is important.

Council member Carlo Bruno noted that officials are trying to correct issues going forward. The houses that have already flooded will likely continue to do so, he said, but new development can be steered in the right direction.

“I don’t want to see one of y’all have to take the furniture out of your house or rip up the carpet out of your house. When I hear those stories, it tugs at me,” he said.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can, this council, this administration. If we could correct this overnight, we would’ve done it 100 times over.”

Email Emma Kennedy at ekennedy@theadvocate.com.